13 dystopias that will be studied in history books: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Today we inaugurate a new series of literary proposals that, within the framework of 13 Editora, are of special interest. The idea behind 13 books that changed history was to recognize the important social impact of the 13 proposed works. Those books raises awareness towards the problems of the time in which they were written, while formulating specific alternatives that contributed to advancing on the path to make the world a fairer, more egalitarian and sustainable place. In 13 dystopias that will be studied in history books lays the spirit of highlighting some of the most important exponents of the dystopian genre of all time. In addition to the literary value in the works that will be treated in this series, the ability of the authors to “translate” a social reality (present or past) into words, as well as to show a remarkable capacity for analysis and anticipation when expressing possible future realities that, today, are already part of our present.

This series of 13 dystopias that will be studied in history books begins with a novel that has several unique facts. The first, having served as a basis for the director Ridley Scott to make his famous feature film Blade Runner (free adaptation of the novel made in 1982). The second, to establish itself as one of the top works of North American science fiction. It is a story about a post-apocalyptic future that unfolds in a poisoned land; an uninhabitable world, in which only those people who have no means to flee remain. On a planet deteriorated by pollution and covered with technological garbage, where there is an acceleration of immigration by the powerful classes to more habitable planets. In this context, a series of androids -nonliving agents with the capacity to reason- are mistaken with humans. This is the argument of our first proposal: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick (1968).

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was the fourth novel by American writer Philip K. Dick, one of the authors who had the greatest influence on the development of the science fiction genre in the 1960s. In this novel, as in the previous ones, Dick builds his story on the basis of some of the recurrent themes of his work: political power and corruption, totalitarian states, business monopolies and their practices and, always in the background, metaphysics, a line that was taking center stage in his later works together with theology.

The rejection that authority, uncritically assumed by the citizenry, provoked in Dick (Chicago, 1928), was a constant in his works, and an outstanding outline of his personality from a very young age. A clear example is the fact that he abandoned his university studies for refusing to follow the compulsory course of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a training program for officers of the Armed Forces that was developed in American schools and universities. A sympathizer of the beat poets, anti-war and with a clear left-wing thought, he was closely related to the counterculture prior to the 1960s. At the same time, he had some run-ins with the authority (specifically, with the FBI), although this did not prevent him from continuing to capture his concerns and proposals about the world in his texts.

That personal world view on which Dick built this story is today, despite the years that passed since its publication, as valid as it was then. A story of androids pretending to be people, and people who look like soulless machines. We find a clear mirror, then, in our actuality. We live in a time when artificial intelligence is already a reality, and machines are replacing people in many fields; in which there are already people who prefer an electronic pet to a real animal; in which we admire “celebrities” who don’t really exist (images created with synthetic voices); in which virtual assistants are a fundamental part of our life. A context of social immobility, dominated by multinationals that increasingly have more power, and governed by a corrupt and often authoritarian political class, as described in the novel in 1968, and our newspapers today.

The progressive deterioration of the limits between the artificial and the natural, the organic and the technological; loss of identity as a species; the omnipresence of technology as a guarantee of our current comfort; or technological progress as a solution on which we place our hopes, are topics covered in depth within the novel, but they are also realities with which we live today. Realities that must be changed, sooner rather than later, to avoid an outcome that puts us in the starting position of the novel.

📷 Image: unknown author.

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